Said and read – April 2019

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April has been restorative – as the onset of springtime usually is. The gradual introduction of more light into every day makes such a difference even though, until the last few years, I never used to be someone who cared about darkness.

I still have not achieved the same reading pace as the past two years, but I hit 100 books read in 2019 as April ended (about 28 in April). I suppose if I were to tally up all the other things I do in my life and in other people’s lives, this would seem more remarkable.

“Insight” (haha) into what I was reading and rambling about in the past can be found here: 2019 – March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for April:

April reading was a strange mix of things – some university related and most things that were available as e-books from the library. This means that I may make a dent in a lot of books that I (or someone) feel(s) I should read, but they might not be anything I’d have jumped at. I’d say April has been defined by Joyce Carol Oates mostly because she has been beyond prolific in her literary output, and most of the oeuvre is available at the library in digital form. I have over the years read an Oates book here or there without plowing through everything she ever wrote – first because there have always been too many of them and too few of me and second because, while I often appreciate her style, I find I need a break and something different before coming back to her. It’s often overwrought, but it depends on the book and on my mood.

When I think of Oates I think of a penfriend I had in my youth, a Hungarian woman whose words and tastes (as expressed in letters so long ago) still echo. Many of her impressions have stayed with me, despite how long it has been since we were in contact. She, like many Hungarians I have known, had a cynical, if not judgmental, disposition and seemed never-quite-satisfied with anything. In her case, I recall her disdain for Dublin when she moved there from Budapest, dismissing it as “provincial”. I had at that time never been to either city, so it seemed a rough assessment. I later realized she was right (and she had certainly been living in Dublin when it was far more provincial than now). I recall some of the more sharp criticisms she wrote about her perceptions of how I came across in letters, as I did take them to heart. She wrote at least once about her admiration for Joyce Carol Oates; this too stuck in my mind even if I did not follow through on exploring Oates’s work until years later.

In the case of another Hungarian woman I know, pretty much everything that came out of her mouth was an untempered, unmitigated negative comment on everything around her, e.g., her fellow Hungarians, the fact that I ate jam on bread at breakfast. In fact, you should have seen her recoil in horror when she realized she was going to have to spend three weeks with me as a roommate. (I know I can be quite negative myself, although I tend to think I temper it with humor at times, and balance it with reason, evidence or the ‘bright side’ as well.)

Both women, though, were wells of intelligence, and once you knew them and were in their confidence, you could not have asked for a dearer friend.

None of this has anything to do with Joyce Carol Oates and nothing to do with writing about reading.

Highly recommended

All by Joyce Carol Oates:

*A Widow’s Story

This nearly broke my heart while on a flight to Glasgow. Maybe because it was a personal story and didn’t feel as detached as Oates’s style can.

But isn’t one’s pain quotient shocking enough without fictional amplification, without giving things an intensity that is ephemeral in life and sometimes even unseen? Not for some. For some very, very few that amplification, evolving uncertainly out of nothing, constitutes their only assurance, and the unlived, the surmise, fully drawn in print on paper, is the life whose meaning comes to matter most.

*Patricide

*Evil Eye

*The Gravedigger’s Daughter

Good

*Walking the Black CatCharles Simic

Poetry, of course.

*Bless Me, UltimaRudolfo Anaya

The rest of the summer was good for me, good in the sense that I was filled with its richness and I made strength from everything that had happened to me, so that in the end even the final tragedy could not defeat me. And that is what Ultima tried to teach me, that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.

Adding this to the to-read list reminded me a lot of being in high school, as I seem to recall that this book was an option on the reading list in a world literature class I hastily joined in my final year. I had already completed more than enough English credits to graduate but had a free hour during my final semester. It turned out to be a big mistake because most of the rest of the people in the class were individuals who had somehow not passed English at some other point in their academic careers. We had an assignment, for example, to write haiku, which most people in the class didn’t understand. And ones who managed wrote about their worship of tanning beds. In any case, why do I recall this book from a list of many? I suppose I remember the things I didn’t read more than the things I did. And reading it, although it had nothing to do with high school, reminded me so much of… what high school English teachers wanting to share “multicultural” literature assigned that I can’t help but to have been transported back to the early 1990s.

*FiguringMaria Popova

We spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins. We snatch our freeze-frame of life from the simultaneity of existence by holding on to illusions of permanence, congruence, and linearity; of static selves and lives that unfold in sensical narratives. All the while, we mistake chance for choice, our labels and models of things for the things themselves, our records for our history. History is not what happened, but what survives the shipwrecks of judgment and chance.

What makes a person “the same” person across life’s tectonic upheavals of circumstance and character? Amid the chaos and decay toward which the universe inclines, we grasp for stability and permanence by trying to carve out a solid sense of self in our blink of existence. But there is no solidity. Every quark of every atom of every cell in your body had been replaced since the time of your first conscious memory, your first word, your first kiss. In the act of living, you come to dream different dreams, value different values, love different loves. In a sense, you are reborn with each new experience.

Having read her site, BrainPickings.org, faithfully for many years, I can only express a kind of gratitude. Popova’s style has nudged awake feelings in me when I thought they were numbed forever, I could not help but be inspired and definitely had to get this book. Popova’s singular and thoughtful voice, eloquence and competence in weaving stories from what must only have been a string of dull facts, bringing historical events to life, shine through in this work as well as her incomparable way of putting complex feelings and observations into words.

Are we to despair or rejoice over the fact that even the greatest loves exist only “for a time”? The time scales are elastic, contracting and expanding with the depth and magnitude of each love, but they are always finite—like books, like lives, like the universe itself. The triumph of love is in the courage and integrity with which we inhabit the transcendent transience that binds two people for the time it binds them, before letting go with equal courage and integrity.

Few things are more wounding than the confounding moment of discovering an asymmetry of affections where mutuality had been presumed.”

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*EmbassytownChina Miéville

It felt like being a child again, though it was not. Being a child is like nothing. It’s only being. Later, when we think about it, we make it into youth.

A book of language and science fiction, this book, like much of Miéville, is engrossing and difficult to describe. I won’t say every Miéville hooks me, but they are all interesting regardless of whether I like them or not. In this case, I liked.

“I admit defeat. I’ve been trying to present these events with a structure. I simply don’t know how everything happened. Perhaps because I didn’t pay proper attention, perhaps because it wasn’t a narrative, but for whatever reasons, it doesn’t want to be what I want to make it.”

*The OtherDavid Guterson

“The early leader in a half-mile race rarely finishes first, but he wants to have had the experience of leading—that’s part of it—and he’s perennially hopeful that, this time, things will be different in the home stretch.

I can’t say I actually enjoyed this book, but it was nevertheless interesting. Guterson has an elegant way of creating characters and breathing life into them. I also appreciate the setting here (Washington state scenes), so much so that I’d argue that the Pacific Northwest setting is its own character.

*Naive. SuperErlend Loe

My existence is developing some distance from itself. Perspective. Perspective is one of those things one ought to be able to purchase and administer intravenously.

Caught up in the media whirlwind of the Pete Buttigieg moment, I, like everyone else, heard the story of Buttigieg learning Norwegian simply to be able to read more books by Erlend Loe. I’d never read Loe in English or Norwegian, so I started with this, until now apparently the only one translated into English. I didn’t find anything ‘special’ about it that would cause me to learn Norwegian if I didn’t already know it, nor anything that would necessarily lead me to seek out more Loe works. That said, there is something deceptively simple and direct about Loe’s prose that is probably appealing.

This is a completely different life. People must think I’m a dog owner in New York. That I live here and have an apartment and a dog. That I pick up dog turds like this one every day, before and after work. It’s a staggering thought. Seeing as I’m not a dog owner in New York, that also means everybody else could be something other than what they seem to be. That means it’s impossible to know anything at all.”

I suppose it is fittingly cynical to state as an aside that everything about Buttigieg seems designed to be politically appealing, as though every action he has taken has been a cynically strategic move to position himself as a political leader, but in a robotic, “I followed the handbook” kind of way. It seems as though every story that has been planted in the media has painted him as a hope-driven, anti-Trump, and yet I cannot shake the feeling that so much of what I am seeing is so by design. (We all do things in our lives by design, or think we do, and we all do things to appear a certain way, of course, but this is to an extreme.) The biggest standout is Buttigieg’s having gone into the military when he didn’t need to to be deployed to a conflict that is both supposedly over and has been judged as an unnecessary and destabilizing failure. But the handbook says military service plays well with X part of the base and might mitigate objections to his being gay or being the son of a Maltese immigrant or being relatively inexperienced in national politics. I don’t want to pick it all apart, but it just feels like a packaged cake and frosting mix: too sweet, a little too easy.

Coincidences

*Hag-SeedMargaret Atwood

Not a coincidence per se, but the premise of Hag-Seed is a retelling/take on Shakespeare‘s The Tempest. Why I find it sort of coincidental is more comparative. That is, Helen Oyeyemi has reimagined many fairy tales and symbols in her work, such as Gingerbread and Boy, Snow, Bird, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Atwood’s take on The Tempest is entirely novel, and when I look at both Atwood and Oyeyemi’s attempts, the richness of Atwood’s characters feels lived-in and real; there is something that always feels artificial in Oyeyemi’s characters, and I wonder if this is intentional.

Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)

*GingerbreadHelen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi’s work is always hit or miss for me. In some books, such as Boy, Snow, Bird, I am immediately drawn in, and in others, like Gingerbread, I find that I just wanted it to end. Strangely, reading about the process of the book’s creation in interviews with Oyeyemi is far more interesting than the book itself. Something comes from the experience, but it’s not the book itself providing that experience, making it something of a disappointment.

*The Good EarthPearl S. Buck

I read The Good Earth when I was in high school and remembered it so differently from how I felt about it now. It did indeed still evoke feelings, but mostly angry ones of hating the main (male) character and wondering exactly how Pearl Buck decided to offer such a condescending colonialist take on something she could not possibly have understood as an outsider. It reads now so much as the impressions of someone on the outside projecting their surface-level misconceptions onto an entire people.

Random Gum: Darling Buds of May 2017

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The Good Goo of Random Gum: Darling Buds of May
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,/And summer’s lease hath all too short a date
Shakespeare, sonnet 18

Whole playlist available on Spotify.

01 Angel Olsen – “Who’s Sorry Now” …Right to the end/Just like a friend/I tried to warn you somehow…

02 Deidre & the Dark – “Which Way”…we can, we can begin again…
“Maybe this time I’ll be in the right place for the wrong time”

03 Darling Buds – “Crystal Clear” …You need a friend someone to say/Get your act together…
A slice of 1990 in sound form

04 Crocodiles – “Groove is in the Heart/California Girls”

05 A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…”

06 Arab Strap – “The First Big Weekend of 2016”
Sigh, here we go again, Mr Firewall. My heart always lies, cries and dies in Glasgow

07 Slowgold – “Korta sommar”
Surprise, surprise: Sweden; short summer (and this year, long winter… still snowing in May!)

08 Mount Eerie – “Real Death” …Though you clawed at the cliff you were sliding down/Being swallowed into a silence that’s bottomless and real…
Heartbreaking true story of loss; what remains in mortality’s aftermath. Feeling lucky. Could be a companion piece to the book Grief is the Thing with Feathers

09 Elvis Perkins – “My Kind” …I conjure you/And you produce me/An off-white heir/for my vanity…
Love for Catherine S, who recommended Perkins years ago

10 Troller – “Storm Maker”

11 Leon Bridges – “River”
“Oh, I wanna come near and give you/Every part of me/But there’s blood on my hands/And my lips aren’t clean”

12 Merchandise – “Become What You Are” …But it don’t really matter what I say/You’re just going to twist it anyway…
“No I couldn’t bear the burden/So I threw it all away/I left my home and all my friends behind”

13 The Chills – “Pink Frost”
New Zealand

14 The Ukrainians – “Spivaey solovey
Remembered lovely Ukrainian versions of Smiths songs earlier this year after years of not hearing – had forgotten the whole enterprise and connection with The Wedding Present

15 Yamasuki Singers – “Yokomo”
Something old that sounds new (predating my life at least), from the father of one of the Daft Punk dudes. I can’t get enough – this one is great for driving along winding country roads in the sun

16 Belle & Sebastian – “The Stars of Track and Field” …But when she’s on her back/She had the knowledge/To get her where she wanted…
Oh, yes, endless love affair with Glasgow & Scotland ❤

17 First Aid Kit – “Emmylou” …Oh the bitter winds are coming in/And I’m already missing the summer/Stockholm’s cold but I’ve been told/I was born to endure this kind of weather…
“I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June/If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too/No, I’m not asking much of you/Just sing little darling, sing with me”

18 Laura Gibson – “Not Harmless” …I’ll teach you to cry in a crowded room/I’ll teach you how to talk ’till your teeth come loose…

19 New Fast Automatic Daffodils – “Fishes Eyes”
Oh, the familiar sounds of the high school years. Here’s to long-lost Terra Firma.

20 Niyaz – “Tam e Eshq (Taste of Love)”

21 Sure Sure – “Easy Way”

22 Christopher Owens – “Another Loser Fuck Up” …Sometimes a song is like a photograph:/Everybody wants to figure it out/But you and I will see a different picture/And I don’t need to tell you what it’s about…

23 Gram Parsons – “Return of the Grievous Angel”
Escape from rehab hospital, take ten. For SD

24 Françoise Hardy, Jacques Dutronc – “Amours toujours, tendresse, caresses”
One of those carefree-feeling-over-it kinds of songs. Of course, there must be quelque chose French

25 Jeffrey Louis-Reed – “Obamacare
26 William Onyeabor – “Atomic Bomb”
With love for Billy and Travis, two of my favorite people in the world

27 Dolce – “Säg Nåt Vanligt
Because who doesn’t love Swedish?
28 Sam Prekop – “Showrooms”

29 Martha Wainwright – “I Will Internalize …I am wet and weak…
I’ve included this one in a mix years ago but it felt appropriate for now
30 Tele Novella – “Sacramento” …one day you’ll die going into the light/and you’ll find yourself right here/turn the doorknob without fear/you were always coming here/since the day your soul appeared…
Spending frustrating days secluded at home, left to my own devices. Love for J, fellow at-home worker

31 The Beau Brummels – “Laugh, Laugh”
Those times when your breath is taken away, and it hurts, to laugh so hard…

32 Parsley Sound – “Ease Yourself and Glide”

33 Muzsikás – “Eddig Vendig”
Throwback to college-era music obsessions; with love to my Hungarian friends

34 Johnnie Frierson – “Have You Been Good to Yourself”

35 Feist, Jarvis Cocker – “Century” …I fought my feelings and got in the way/Could’ve been easier than a decade of days…
A vaguely PJ Harvey sound going on here but unmistakably Feist-style lyrics

36 Fruit Bats – “Flamingo”
“The last thing I’ll do before I call it quits/Is probably dream just a little bit/But nothing too hard on my sweet fadin’ mind ’cause everything is gonna be just fine”

37 St Francis Hotel – “You’d Gotta Be Alive”

38 Angus & Julia Stone – “A Heartbreak”

39 Rahim AlHaj – “Going Home”
Listened to a moving performance and interview on KEXP and wanted to include

40 Documenta – “Love as a Ghost”
It’s all about the sound

41 The Soundcarriers – “Low Light”

42 Levy – “Rotten Love”

43 Klaus Johann Grobe – “Ein guter Tag” …nein, nein lieber nicht…
Branching out into the Swiss

44 Frankie Reyes – “Alma, Corazón y Vida
45 Can – “Mother Sky”

46 Field Music – “Let’s Write a Book” …Let’s not apologize/Let’s not assume blame…

47 Big Star – “Feel” …You just ain’t been trying/It’s getting very near the end…

48 Fikret Kizilok – “Leylim leylim”
Because Jill always leads to beautiful discoveries. Love to you, dearest!

49 Julia Holter – “So Lillies”

50 The Modern Lovers – “Hospital” …I’ll seek out the places that must have been magic/To your little girl mind/Now as a little girl/You must have been magic…
“I still get jealous of your old boyfriends/In the suburbs sometimes/And when I walk down your street/Probably be tears in my eyes/I can’t stand what you do/Sometimes I can’t stand you/And it makes me think about me/That I’m involved with you/But I’m in love with this power that shows through in your eyes”

51 The Boomtown Rats – “Banana Republic” …Stab you in the back yeah laughin’ in your face/Glad to see the place again, it’s a pity nothing’s changed…
For Travis, for Angelika – the very few who can join me in loving the Rats

52 Juana Molina – “Cosoco
53 Marvin Gaye – “It’s a Desperate Situation”
Got on a bit of a Marvin Gaye kick; this song fit the frame of mind (can’t shake the sense that certain urges are uncontrollable – the lyrics don’t really apply in the least!). For J

54 J Churcher – “I Remember”

55 Radiohead – “Burn the Witch” …We know where you live…

56 Exploded View – “Orlando”

57 The Jones Girls – “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else”
A reminder of the lovely visit from Travis and Billy and discussions on musical ‘guilty pleasures’

58 The Avalanches – “If I Was a Folkstar”
“And I’d like to see her every day/I know I can’t be gone every weekend/Let’s wake up side by side/Let’s sleep in till we die”. On the road visiting the PoPos (Portugal, Poland, not the police). For R

59 Sam Evian – “Sleep Easy” …chemicals and candy/don’t know what they do to me/but I know I got a song/to come home to…

60 Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians – “Raymond Chandler Evening”
Beloved Hitchcock. “There’s a body on the railing/that I can’t identify/and I’d like to reassure you but/I’m not that kind of guy”

61 The Radio Dept. – “Sloboda Narodu” …When out of patience/Is your constant state of mind…

62 Rose Elinor Dougall – “Colour of Water”

63 The Pastels, Tenniscoats – “Vivid Youth”
Collaboration: Glasgow’s Pastels with Japanese duo Tenniscoats

64 Jeffrey Lewis – “Back to Manhattan”

65 Aztec Camera – “We Could Send Letters” …And now I’ve seen what you can’t understand
/I’d try to lead you but I’d crush your hand…
Classic, brilliant song and more Glasgow-area/Scotland goodness. “So if we weaken, we can call it stress/You’ve got my trust, I’ve got your home address/And now the only chance that we could take/Is the chance that someone else won’t make it all come true”

66 Eleni Mandell – “Someone to Love Like You” …some people never stop trying…

67 The Tornados – “Telstar”

68 Childbirth – “Siri, Open Tinder
I marvel at this title that now makes perfect sense but would once have been nonsensical gibberish. And of course this comes from Seattle…

69 Nathan Fake – “The Sky was Pink”
The pink morning and evening skies on the homestead

70 Rivulets – “Ride On, Molina” …I feel a fever coming on…
J and those horribly feverish days

71 Dear Nora – “The Lonesome Border, Pt 1”
Border life, as usual. “And I know we’re gonna last a long time/But I can’t help but need to live from minute to minute/’Cause now it is said there’s a change/And I sense the change in me”

72 Emma Pollock – “Don’t Make Me Wait” …I’m just the one to mop it up/When someone overflows your cup/Sitting in the shadows till you blame me…
The anthem of this late part of spring… waiting for winter to end, even as we head into summer, always waiting for the next step, the next move. And of course – Glasgow Glasgow Glasgow ❤ “You’ll never ever make it on your own/what makes you think you’ll make it on your own?”

73 Gwenno – “Chwyldro” …Paid, paid anghofio fod dy galon yn y chwyldro…
Because who in her right might would not want to learn Welsh?

74 O – “Deepthroat Love” …But I fear you In an offhand way/Digging the back door/Slamming, my heart in a daze/And you like that/It’s a lot like God/But not close enough…
Mr L… “you got a lot goin’ on, don’t you babe? My deepthroat love…”

75 A Certain Ratio – “The Fox”

76 EZTV – “High Flying Faith” …broken would be better than an answer halfway clear…

77 gobbinjr – “firefly” …we’re only worth what we give back/and i deserve a heart attack…

78 Nap Eyes – “Mixer” …But it’s easy to understand/What it is that makes me feel this way/It’s not so easy to make/All of my problems go away…

79 Happy Meals – “Le Voyage”
Glasgow ❤

80 Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation – “Rushing Through My Mind”
Sverige

81 Marvin Gaye – “All My Life
82 Robyn Hitchcock – “To Turn You On”
Love for J. “I would leave you as you were/If I wanted to/Then I wonder is it fair/Now you’re on your own/Who cares about you/Except me, God help me/When things go wrong/I’d do anything to turn you/Must phone me, you know me/When things go wrong/I’d do anything to turn you on”. Roxy Music cover

83 Pavo Pavo – “Ran Ran Run” …time is a hole in my waterbed/some kind of cardinal sin/tomorrow might be sleeping in…

84 Joan Shelley – “Here and Whole
85 Arik Einstein – “Prague”
The identified Israeli singer; Prague in mind (Martina ❤, MI) & Brno, too (Anne ❤)

86 Michael Kiwanuka – “Cold Little Heart” …I can’t stand myself…
“I’ve been losing you/one day at a time”. Wouldn’t have known the song were it not for the Big Little Lies miniseries, for which this was the theme – but both well worthwhile. Now I am well and truly terrified of Alexander Skarsgård

87 Charlie Hilton – “100 Million”
“I’m a fountain/you can throw yourself in me”

88 Emmylou Harris – “Tulsa Queen”
Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko recently died in, of all places, Tulsa – and this seemed a good choice

89 Julia Jacklin – “Same Airport”*

90 Cowboy Junkies – “You Will Be Loved Again” …Her cold eyes tell you that you’re not welcome/she tells lies, but you’ll take her back again…
“How can he take you in his arms, and help you to be free, then leave you forgotten?” “Someday you will feel a love so deep, and you’ll find someone not lost in sleep…”

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Not entirely sure what to say because I have resorted to making these mixes with such frequency.

*Considering the ‘same airport, different man’ question – in how many different men and different (and same) airports have I experienced these greetings and departures? Meeting one in Copenhagen airport and later him greeting me at Paris CDG and later at Stockholm Arlanda? Or all the Oslo Oslo and more Oslo. Or arriving and departing Lyon. The endless hours in and out of Minneapolis-St Paul. And let’s not forget the old days of meeting-greeting-bidding adieu at Keflavik. Or the Sea-Tac of another life.

Tips and tricks of how these mixes are built: my favorite songs are usually at the beginning and the end – occasionally one I really like comes in the middle. There are always a few that are not good songs but are reminders of some moments in my life. This time is was a lot about sound – what sounds and transitions made the most sense to me and my ears? What appealed to me most as I walked through the hills or drove late at night through the city, lost in detours avoiding all the endless construction. Music carries you through most of all when you’re lost.

Many people have let me know they no longer have conventional CD players, so I am cutting back on mailing these by post. I also have the entire playlist freely available on Spotify if you want to see it (and you can follow me on Spotify to find all the lists, dating back to 2004). I have not yet found a better alternative where I can put all the lists and tracks that will make it easily accessible for everyone.

Reading the Riot Act … in poetry time

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“Great minds have sought you — lacking someone else.
You have been second always. Tragical?
No. You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind —   with one thought less, each year.”
-Ezra Pound, “Portrait d’Une Femme

I recently used the expression “reading the Riot Act” and then felt compelled to think about it and where this expression came from. How many expressions are we using every day without really having a clear answer as to where they came from? Many months ago, I referred to “Big Brother” watching us, and, if I remember correctly, the colleague to whom I was speaking replied with something about reality TV shows. (I made sure to inform her that Big Brother comes from the must-read book, Orwell‘s 1984, and months later supplied her with a copy, which she devoured and loved.) Actually the same woman and I had a talk the other day in which she described the stereotypical (and yes, it’s totally derogatory) “Shylock”, so I mentioned “Shylock” – and again got to explain the origins of this reference (as well as the reference to the oft-cited demanding one’s pound of flesh). Oh, how much of this language and its complex web of references is attributable to Shakespeare? Okay, not Big Brother, but … the English language is practically sewn together with Shakespearean expressions and imagery.

I never consider myself that literary. I am not the kind of person, in my imagination, who makes literary references (neither the highbrow kind that only certain people will “get” nor the everyday “everyone should know this” kind – lately it seems that the only reference anyone makes that anyone gets is from pop culture rubbish “lit”). Despite this self-evaluation, I tend to find a poem or line from a poem (or at least a song) that fits to every situation. And so much of it ties into memories.

I was thinking for example of a former classmate, Frank. Someone I genuinely liked and respected, but one among several of the high school era people I knew who just decided to go away and live a life disconnected from the past. I gave a lot of thought today to how much he despised being forced to read and analyze poetry in our senior lit class. Symbolism seemed the most ludicrous thing ever. He was profoundly … almost disgusted by William Carlos Williams and the reverence our teachers afforded this guy and his red wheelbarrow and white chickens (not to be confused with the chicken that my current company dubiously had in some of its ads).

We had an assignment in which we were assigned a poet to research, and Frank was given Ezra Pound. (He could have chosen another poet but probably would not have wanted to invest the time to select one.) I distinctly recall Frank claiming that there was a reference in one of Pound’s poems that read: “the monkey screams”. Where did he get this? Perhaps from Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” (“The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.”)

One year in high school we also had to analyze Pound’s “Portrait d’Une Femme” as a part of our (nerd festival, in which I participated willingly and gleefully) academic decathlon competition. At the time the poem held very little meaning for me, but over the years has assumed a bittersweet kind of importance, as I recognize in it bits of myself. Poetry and music both have a way of reaching me (and probably all people) in different ways at different times. This poem seemed so remote when I was young and had no life experience, and then suddenly, these references to being second always and yet preferring it – or the final lines: “In the slow float of differing light and deep,/No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,/Nothing that’s quite your own/Yet this is you.”

It simply cuts – and cuts the right way, however painful the realizations that come with it. I don’t know another way to put it. I know many people find poetry completely unrelatable, but for me, it is alive and takes on new lives each time I read it. Much like these expressions we adopt into our vernacular … and forget how they got there and maybe what they originally meant.